In an apparent dramatic reversal of its mainland China growth strategy, it emerged over the weekend that US media giant AOL Time Warner is engaged in heart-to-hearts to sell part or all of its controlling 85% stake in Chinese Entertainment Television Broadcasting.

The joint venture with Rupert Murdoch’s far eastern satellite venture Star TV, broadcasts a 24-hour Mandarin-language entertainment channel in China's southern province of Guangdong.

AOL, however, is now closeted in talks with Hong Kong's wealthiest magnate Li Ka-shing, whose media group has long sought a foothold in the mainland TV market. AOL and admitted Monday they were in advanced talks but declined to give details.

The news raised eyebrows among the local media savants, who expressed surprise that AOL TW is effectively ceding its foothold in the market before it even got established.

Commented one pundit, Vivek Couto at Media Partners Asia in Hong Kong: “The market would be a bit disappointed because some people may ask ‘if someone like Time Warner can’t get it right in China, who can at this stage?’”

But AOL is under massive pressure to reduce its US debts, currently in the region of $26 billion (€21.91bn; £15.85bn), and a slice of the estimated $70 million value of CETV would be a helpful drop in the ocean

AOL, however, denies it is quitting the mainland market altogether. Grace Wong, vp corporate communications at Turner Broadcasting System Asia-Pacific, is adamant: “We definitely want to retain a stake. We are definitely not pulling out.”

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff